• December 16, 2019

The Biggest Challenges to Advocacy

We asked advocacy professionals to name the biggest challenges to their program. Here's what they had to say.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Want to see the results from the 2022 survey? Take a look at the latest numbers.]

What are the biggest challenges facing advocacy programs today? If you guessed staffing and budget, you would be only half right. 

We asked advocacy professionals that very question as part of the 2019 Advocacy Survey, which allowed advocacy professionals to weigh in on the factors that impact their work. The idea was to create data that organizations can use to benchmark their own experience.

The results showed that, while resources were certainly a factor, they did not dominate the list as one might think. Advocacy pros were equally concerned about recruiting new supporters, moving them to action and communicating the value of their program—in short, the core functions of an effective advocacy program. 

The Biggest Challenges

They have reason to be concerned. The advocacy landscape heading into 2020 is nothing if not challenging. People are busy and the amount of noise is ever increasing, making it difficult to draw attention to vital issues. Next year, a major election will increase that noise, as will legislative sessions in 44 states. Advocacy is apt to get more difficult. 

The survey asked two major questions to get a feel for what most concerns advocacy professionals: what are the biggest challenges facing advocacy programs and where do they need the most help. Together, the questions present a solid look at the problems most prevalent in the advocacy world.  

Among the biggest challenges, here were the top five answers. 

  • 58 percent said they were understaffed.
  • 53 percent said it was difficult to move people to action.
  • 46 percent said it was tough to acquire more supporters.
  • 39 percent said they were underfunded.
  • 34 percent said it was hard to communicate the value of their advocacy program.

Many also pointed to internal problems. For example, almost one third (32 percent) said their organization lacks a cohesive strategy and more than one in 10 (12 percent) said they don’t always get support from their own leadership.

Where Pros Need Help

Another way to look at the problems facing advocacy organizations is to ask where they need the most help. The answers track well with the list of the biggest challenges. Here are the top five:

  • 66 percent said they need to recruit more advocates and grow their audience.
  • 45 percent said they need to better communicate the value of their advocacy program.
  • Third place was a tie. Forty percent said they need more funding and an equal percentage said they need to be able to show ROI (return on investment) for advocacy.
  • Fourth place was also a tie, with 31 percent saying that they need more-effective tactics and that they need to better explain why their issues matter.
  • 28 percent said they need to be more effective at reaching decision makers.

Internal issues surfaced on this question as well. One quarter of respondents (25 percent) said they need a strategic plan. One in five said they need more effective technology. Sixteen percent said they need more support from their leadership and 15 percent said they they need departments to work together.  

Of course, these are just two questions. The survey covered a great deal more, such as how advocacy professionals define success, their experiences engaging advocates and their views on the polarized political climate. To hear more about what advocacy professionals had to say about their programs as we head into 2020—and to see how yours compares—download a copy of the full results. We didn’t just tackle problems. We included solutions, too.